I was a guest on BlogTalkRadio on April 11, 2012. I was delighted to speak with Howard Lewinter about how manufacturers are embracing marketing to thrive and survive in an environment that’s become increasingly competitive not only for products and services, but also in attracting top talent.

In case you didn’t have a chance to listen live, here are some highlights from the interview.

How does traditional marketing differ from digital marketing?

Well, marketing is marketing. Every tactic, whether traditional or digital, is founded on basic marketing principals. The distinction is really just in the tactical delivery. Digital marketing is specifically comprised of digital modes, such as the web, SEO, email, mobile and social media.

Why should I be on Facebook?

We’ve encountered that question, too! It’s so funny that when you start talking about digital marketing or social media, everyone assumes you mean Facebook. Whether or not you’re on Facebook or other social platforms really depends on your goals and objectives. Perhaps blogging or a LinkedIn prospecting strategy is more appropriate for your target audience. You don’t necessarily have to be on Facebook in order to participate in the digital realm.

Why has manufacturing become a big part of your business?

We’ve been working with manufacturers since founding our business in 2004. Most of these clients delivered a consumer product, and our marketing was two-tiered. We would develop a strategy to prospect and nurture leads in the distribution channels, and then support their customers by focusing on influencing consumer purchases.

Recently, we have had more opportunities to work with manufacturers in the B2B arena. Ultimately, no matter what industry you’re in, we’ve all felt the economic downturn. The organizations that have survived need to be thinking about how they’re going to thrive by attracting new business and also attracting new talent to their staff. This is a whole new era, and marketing is essential for every kind of business. A great quote that really sums it up comes from Lisa Shepherd, President at The Mezzanine Group. She said, “The CEO of a $90 million company said to me, ‘When I joined this company 14 years ago, we were a $6 million world-class manufacturer with no marketing. Now, we’re a world-class marketer who manufacturers a great product.'”

Why have so many manufacturers resisted marketing?

Many of these organizations are being run by aging leaderships that successfully ran their businesses for years on a handshake. Marketing has really been changed forever with the upsurge of social media. It took everyone by surprise. Facebook started with just college kids, but now it’s a multi-billion dollar company. Even in the marketing and new media world, we’re constantly having to learn new techniques. If you’re not in our industry, it’s really hard to keep up with trends and know what the best opportunities are. Everything from recruiting employees to creating business relationships has been forever changed by social media.

It’s no longer enough just to have conversations at a trade show. Consumers, customers and employees are attracted to the transparency that social media provides for the whole company. It’s not just about driving your marketing message. Rather, it’s creating relationships and taking those conversations online where they can continue. It’s showing the human side of the business. It shows we’re also moms, dads, brothers, sisters and part of the community.

Who’s doing it right?

We love to talk about Molex, a B2B global supplier of interconnect products. They have created a blog that acts as their social media hub, cleverly called “Connector,” that features their other social channels, including Facebook, Twitter and YouTube. It really allows them to showcase their expertise in a variety of ways for people to digest it.

Let’s say I’m a visual person, then I’m going to want to watch their videos of their product offerings. Or if I don’t have time for videos, but want the facts, I can ask questions on their Facebook page. Their blog serves as an excellent holistic approach to reaching their audience in a variety of modes, so they can choose how to receive their information.

In the Heavy Equipment industry, Caterpillar has an amazing social media presence for all of their customer groups, such as construction and landscaping, electrical power generation, and even their CAT apparel line. I love how they have showcased their product history using Facebook timeline all the way back from 1889! Caterpillar features different pages throughout the world. They speak to their customer base about the subjects that interest each group of fans, not just one message for all.

Do you have any manufacturer success stories?

We created an internal community hub for a client that allowed them to share communication materials, marketing assets, training, and business and operational tools. They never would’ve had the budget nor aptitude to communicate so broadly with their customers through the traditional sales route. With the hub, they share new product offerings, new product installation techniques, new skill sets, industry information and webinars, and the customers are able to share experiences. They’ve had tremendous success growing their business with this tool. It’s become part of their day-to-day process.

Does “old school marketing” still work today?

Oh, absolutely. We look at marketing as an integrated opportunity. We get to know our clients’ goals, then choose tactics and strategies that align with them. We recently re-launched a B2B client’s website and hosted a holiday party as our marketing tactic! We encouraged their party-goers to experience how easy it was to purchase materials online rather than just calling in the orders. So our marketing was grounded in real old school event marketing and party invitations. In marketing, there’s no one particular tactic that’s best. It totally depends on what you’re trying to accomplish. We still love old school marketing.

What if as a CEO, a president, a business owner, I don’t have time to “hang out” in social media?

The good news is, maybe you don’t have to! This all goes back to business strategy. Not every CEO should be on Twitter, but some should be. In many cases, leadership presence for a brand is critical. Decide what makes sense for you—whether to leverage internal resources, to outsource or to employ a combination of both. We don’t recommend everyone jump on all social media platforms. If you don’t have the ability to manage platforms, people will be disappointed and you’ll fall short. It IS time consuming to participate. Can the CEO manage the time commitment it takes to really engage in social media? Those are the kinds of questions you want to ask yourself.

Everything boils down to establishing a marketing strategy. It’s like building a house without a blueprint. You need a foundation of what you want to achieve. The steps you need to achieve your blueprint for success will be determined by your business culture, your competition and your brand positioning. Then there’s the influencers, including bloggers, print publications, TV personalities, that might have an influence on your target audience base. Consider all these factors as you determine your marketing blueprint.

How can manufacturers attract top talent?

In today’s world, our Gen X/Y are looking to an organization’s website and social sites. A company’s website gives a view into the culture the organization represents. It’s critical to position your web strategy to attract those young and talented people to your organization through your website and social channels.

Most people go online before making a final buying decision. That’s true for big decisions, whether life or career. You research the organization from a customer perspective or an employee perspective. You want to make sure your online presence matches the organization that you are.

How much should I invest in marketing?

Align what you’re looking for as far as sales goals, and what you’re willing to spend to achieve them. New/digital media does tend to be more cost effective without the placement fees of TV, print or radio, but there’s no point in spending in new digital media if that’s not where your customers are. If they’re represented on the radio, then that’s where you have to focus your marketing dollars. Know where your audience is and that’s where you want to reach them. But don’t put all your eggs in one basket—try a few different baskets that all make sense as part of your overall integrated plan. Then implement measurement. Which tactics are delivering the best return? Whether you’re tracking leads via a CRM product like Nimble or using an Excel document, have some kind of measurement system in place. Then you can take a look at it at the end of the year, quarter or six months, and move your budget to what’s performing the best.

How do I get past the fear factor?

Don’t be afraid to try something new. Take chances on things you haven’t done before. You never know until you try. I can guarantee we’ve never done anything that hasn’t had measureable results. If you don’t invest in marketing, it’s going to be really tough to stay competitive and stay in business. There’s just so much competition and there are so many choices, and people get information so quickly and easily. We all have to market. When someone’s ready to buy, we need to be one of the choices.

My crystal ball shows…

1. Mobile phones. The marketing world hasn’t yet really captured mobile in the best way, but it soon will. After all, there are more iPhones sold per day than people born in the world.

2. Gamification and Loyalty programs. These are your airline frequent flier miles and the shopping card you swipe at your grocery store—you’re probably engaged in loyalty programs daily and don’t even realize. Chicagoland’s Jewel grocery chain recently completed a collect and win game where grocery shoppers received game pieces with each shopping visit.

3. Business-to-Business Marketing. Find a way to be a part of your customers’ value chain. Create something of value for your business customers. It can be as simple as writing an expertise blog where people learn from you in the form of “advice giving.” Or it can be more complex, like a community where you’re able to share experiences and become part of the buying chain like a project management community that includes customers, prospects and clients.

And by all means, be sure to contact Howard Lewinter to share YOUR expertise. We’re certainly glad we did!